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Sneakers | Why consumers always buy sneakers | What make brands unique©breadandbutter.com (Dennis Branko)
July 2014

Why do sneakers draw

such consumer interest?

Sneakers are timeless items, found in almost all cupboards - from young to old. What is the fascination with this shoe style and why do people have such strong attachments to certain brands? Sneaker suppliers explained to RHIANAH FREDERICKS what makes their brand special

It all started with a bang, or rather an All-Star sneaker. From manufacturing rubber-soled shoes to athletic shoes for tennis, Converse — a rubber shoe company founded in 1908 — introduced the world to sneakers, when they developed their All-Star basketball shoe in 1917.

Four years later basketball star Charles H. Chuck Taylor became an ambassador for the brand, after he identified a problem with his playing shoes. He advised the company on some changes, such as adding a non-slip sole, which was helpful when playing on the hardwood basketball floor. After the addition of Taylor’s signature to the sneakers’ ankle patch, the Chucks All Star was on its way to become one of the most popular and recognized style sneakers of all time.

These sneakers were only available in black, with no other colour variants, until 1947, when a white version was produced. It was only in 1966, after pressure from basketball players seeking more coloured choices, that it was produced in a wider variety of colours. Materials like leather, suede, vinyl, etc. as opposed to just canvas, were also introduced.

The sneaker became available in high-top, low-top and even knee-high styles.

After growing a reputation as the sneaker-to-have, Converse bought the Jack Purcell brand of sneakers in 1970. With newer brands like Nike, adidas, Puma, etc. coming onto the scene, Converse was no longer the main choice in basketball shoes. The brand’s popularity dropped, eventually leading to bankruptcy in 2001. Two years later the company’s fortunes were revived when Nike bought it.

Superga

Across the Atlantic another shoe manufacturer also developed a sneaker brand early in the 20th century. Superga was established in 1911, but their low-cut sneaker was only launched in 1925.

This particular design “is regarded as the quintessential classic Italian sneaker,” says David Abramsohn from Superga Footwear. “The shoe has an awesome heritage and appeals to all people with a sense of fashion and an appreciation for Italian culture.” Superga offers consumers a chance to be unique, he says.

“The South African sneaker market is dominated by American brands and culture.” Their brand, however, provides consumers with a high–end European offering, for those who don’t want to follow the crowd.

The brand has been available locally since the early 80’s, but divested in the early 90’s during sanctions, and was re-launched in 2005. All the classic Superga sneakers are handmade, using only natural rubber and cotton, which makes them comfortable and extremely durable, says Abramsohn.

Aside from offering top quality, their products are also green, as they have a reduced the harmful impact on the environment during manufacturing.

Adidas

“We are a sportswear brand for the streets; our heritage is unrivalled and our history unmatched,” says Stuart Davies from adidas. “We have the ability to tell product stories from the runways to the terraces, and everything in between.”

“We are in a relatively unique position, where we can look back at our extensive heritage and deliver fresh contemporary interpretations that are relevant to the current consumer,” he explains.

Adidas has taken models like the ZX8000, known as their most iconic running shoe of all time, and stripped it to its bare bones to create their newer ZX Flux model. “The ZX Flux maintained its iconic DNA, but it’s become fresher, more innovative, whilst still being true to everything adidas Originals stands for,” says Davies. “The Superstar is probably one of the most unique shoes in our range. It was — and still is — the original sneaker.”

Their Superstar model — commonly known as the Shell Toe — was launched in 1969, and dominated the courts, before it was adopted by the New York hip-hop scene in the 70’s and 80’s. This shoe, which started a cultural revolution, was originally designed as a low-top version of the Pro Model basketball shoe. It was the first low-top design to have an all-leather upper and was quite popular among college basketball players of the day.

The Superstar sneakers received much attention in 1986 when the rap group Run DMC released a song called My adidas in response to an anti-sneaker rap poem called Felon Sneakers by Dr Gerald W. Deas, which compared the trend of wearing sneakers without laces to the way in which prisoners wore their shoes in prisons in order to make it more difficult to walk or run.

Run DMC had street-style and wore their Superstar sneakers with pushed out tongues (with or without laces), big jewellery and trench coats while performing — a style that grew popular among rappers and paved the way for hip-hop style.

Adidas subsequently offered the rap group an endorsement deal, which was their first sponsorship of this kind. Signing well-known stars such as Run DMC (who may not be as well-known these days) meant that fans who wanted to imitate those icons were willing to buy the product they wore.

Levi’s

Levi Strauss’ unique history and amazing heritage, are what entices consumers to buy Levi’s sneakers, says Lara Slotsky from local distributor Footwear Trading. Their brand’s history is an amazing tale of innovation, creativity and drive as well as about being at the right place at the right time, she says.

Levi Strauss has been around for 140 years and can be described as an aspirational, lifestyle brand. It has gained the absolute trust of a broad range of consumers across all market segments, says Slotsky. Originally a workman’s brand, it is primarily driven by core product, but the brand is continually innovating new techniques and designs that are relevant to the market place.

“Consumers buy Levi’s footwear, as we are always in seasonal trend with the international market, and we offer excellent, commercial and value driven lifestyle product,” she says. “The quality, durability and comfort of our products stand out amongst competitors.”

Innovative upper materials, outsole designs and seasonal trends in terms of colours and patterns give Levi’s sneakers their edge. “Our designers use products of the past to inspire products of tomorrow,” says Slotsky. The brand’s sneaker styles are simple, uncomplicated, and easy to wear.

The majority of South African consumers are conservative in terms of styling and their brand delivers a plethora of styles that cater to all segments of the market, she explains.

Their core generic footwear is aimed at the mass market, while their fashion/premium footwear is marketed to the more fashion and stylish consumers. The brand also offers a range that supplies all age groups from kids, to ladies and men’s.

The red batwing and red tab logo is exclusive to their products, says Slotsky. “This logo is on all our footwear as a trademark for the trust, quality and innovation that our Levi’s brand represents.”

The international global brand offers true value for money, she concludes.

Puma

The reasons why consumers like Puma varies from brand loyalty, to the fact that the brand offers them what they need at the time, says Scott Pringle from Puma SA. These days the youth tell the brands what they want, as much as the brands offering them what they believe is on trend, he says.

“We make sure that we are offering the trend relevant items at the right time, and at the right price, at all times,” he explains. A brand such as Puma has character and is known for being a little different, while adapting to consumer wants and needs. Puma prides itself on offering uniqueness in their range of sneakers, says Pringle.

The romance the brand offers in terms of marketing and in-store presentation, as well as experience, are also reasons why consumers buy their sneakers, he believes.

Puma has always been seen to do things a little differently to the other brands, which has led to success in the past, says Pringle. Their products have always offered a twist, and are never dull.

Alongside their ability to be unique, their heritage has played a big role. A heritage of many years in various sports, has fed into the lifestyle area of the business.

“Without this heritage there would be no authenticity.” The heritage of the brand sets them apart from some of the younger brands that do not have that many years under their belts, he says.

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